Sunday, February 26, 2012

Losing pets eventual

As featured February 17, 2012, on

It was a normal, insignificant day, the kind of day where the sight of grown man covering his face with his hands, shoulders heaving, was not what I expected as I rounded the corner.
It was a scene especially surprising because I was accustomed to his smiling face and cheerful greetings as I passed his workstation on a regular basis.
When I asked if he was alright, he turned to me a little embarrassed, wiping his eyes, and said simply, “My dog died.”
A phrase universally used to describe a long face or sullen mood, it's meaning took on new significance as he talked about his pal of many years.
She'd been getting older and they'd dreaded the thought they'd have to put her to sleep.
But even though they'd known to prepare themselves, as time went by, she managed to fool them into thinking she might live forever.
It was strange, he said, she knew she was getting older too but she pushed on, doing things she shouldn't have been able to do at her age and as each day passed, he knew it just wasn't time yet, to wait just a little longer – to let her tell him if she needed his help.
In her final act of independence and maybe a little defiance, he said she made her way to a quiet place and laid down like she had thousands of times before, and that's where he found her.
Even though it shouldn't have been a surprise and logically it wasn't, he was still expected to see her greet him when he arrived home each evening and felt like part of himself was missing.
It had been a couple days since she'd died, but something about that quiet moment in the work day had opened up the memories of her and the loss had struck anew, right about the time I walked past.
When it comes to the death of a pet, I don't think it matters if you know it's coming and live the countdown with your dear friend, or if they suddenly go from 60 to zero overnight – it leaves a big empty hollow spot in your world.
There's something different about the way we interact with our pets, unique even to our human interactions. They are always there – underfoot as you walk to the fridge in the middle of the night, content to watch you read for hours, watching out the window when you get home – It's a relationship like none other.
And after they've gone when you look back through the family photos, you realize that while the human faces came and went over the years, they were there for every birthday, every Christmas, every important moment.
From the minute they enter our lives, we know the days are numbered, but a comfort sets in over the years because they're always there wagging their tails and ready with a nuzzle.
It's the most poignant downside to loving dogs, who we get so little time with in the greater scheme of things.
When the gray hairs start emerging around the muzzle, it's easy to ignore.
But then those once sharp, bright eyes go soft and their sniffing becomes a natural version of doggy braille. And instead of jumping up when you walk past like they used to, the tail just thumps against the floor and you know they're jumping on the inside instead because it takes too much energy to stretch the joints.
Before long, they start to confuse things, barking in alarm when someone closes the bathroom and missing the doorbell all together.
And then one day they're gone – no eyes between the curtains, no lump at the foot of the bed to trip over in the dark and instead of clicking claws on the tile beside you, yours are the only feet padding to the fridge in the middle of the night, no friend vying with your shadow for time with you.
But surely when you've been loved so unconditionally, that can't be the end of things.
As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Guest blog: "I Am"

When Mrs. Sena gave her eighth grade English class an assignment, it became more than just a simple poetry exercise for 14-year-old Jenna Spencer. Jenna poured her heart and soul into her writing, working through not only the poetry assignment but reliving the sorrow and pain of the day 4-month-old Tyson was put to sleep.
Not only did the exercise give Jenna an opportunity to work through her grief, it opened a new outlet for her and she has embraced writing and poetry because of Mrs. Sena's class.
The death of a beloved pet is never easy but beyond grief, “I Am,” conveys love and loss through the eyes of youth in a way that touches the soul.
And through Tyson's death, Jenna found a voice – And a beautiful voice it is.

Please take a moment to read "I Am," by Jenna Spencer

The poem "I Am," and accompanying photograph are the property of Jenna Spencer, submitted exclusively for use by In Search of Ponies,

Saturday, February 18, 2012

This week: Saying good-bye to a friend

Ever wonder where the expression, “you look like your dog just died” came from?
Chances are, if you have loved and lost a pet, you already know the answer all to well.
Our pets hold a special, sacred place in our lives that are unique among all our friendships and when they reach the end of their days, the loss that results is like none other.
This week, in the Clovis News Journal and Portales News Tribune, In Search of Ponies deals with the topic of saying good-bye to that special bond and appreciating the time you had with your dear friend.

Update: Keep humming!

It's mid-February and Eastern New Mexico has had a handful of brutally cold days, snow storms and it's trademark high winds, but I am happy to report El Nino the hummingbird is still getting his sugar and staying warm.
To refresh memory, in early December, In Search of Ponies featured a guest blog from Lisa Moore discussing the topic of caring for hummingbirds that failed to migrate during the winter months. Her blog included some great ideas for winter feeding along with a request for people to leave their feeders out so the little guys stranded in the area could survive through the cold.
Courtesy photo: Lisa Moore
El Nino enjoys nectar
from a warm winter feeder.
Lisa recently reported that while she hasn't heard of any other humming birds in the area from her network of humming bird enthusiasts, her little guy, whom she's named “El Nino” is continuing to visit her feeders and is thriving despite the bitter weather of late.

It's great to know he's doing well. It will be spring before we know it and at the rate he's going, who knows, maybe there will be little green Ninettes visiting Lisa's feeders in a few months!
If anyone else is feeding hummingbirds this winter or has come up with creative ways to keep feeders warm, send your experience and tips to In Search of Ponies

Family faced tough decision to stomach

At one time or another, most of us have played those hypothetical question games, you know, the ones where you imagine what historical figures you would invite to dinner if you could, or what three things you would want to have with you if deserted on an island.
Here’s one to toss around...
If you and your dog got lost in the woods without food and no hope of rescue, would you... could you, eat your dog?
Now before you go getting upset, I didn’t think of this all on my own.
In recent days, a Curry County, Ore., couple talked to the media after being plucked from a deep forest where they, their adult son and their pit bull Jesse spent six days lost and hungry.
Of course the rescue was news, but what really catapulted them into headlines was that they admitted they talked about eating their dog Jesse to survive, though the woman said she just didn’t think she would have been able to go through with it.
I would have to say for a litany of reasons, I’m with her and I couldn’t even consider the dog as a food possibility.
Of course love and compassion are at the top of the list, but also up there pretty high is the fact that I have seen some of the stuff dogs eat and that’s pretty hard to overlook, even starving.
As luck would have it, they were rescued before they were really faced with the moment, and in interviews, there was a lot of emotion as they expressed relief that it never came to that.
Now this just doesn’t seem like the type of scenario you want to armchair quarterback unless you’ve experienced it and know first hand how it feels to wrestle with uncertainty over whether you will live or die, so second guessing them seems pretty inappropriate.
Okay, with one exception — they could have, and probably should have, kept that little tidbit from the media.
But it goes without saying that their revelation gave whole new meaning to the motivation behind Jesse’s wag as she left the forest with rescuers.
And judging by photos that were taken of the family after being released from the hospital and reunited with Jesse and their four Chihuahuas (their fates were never deliberated because they stayed home during the unlucky trip), the dog had forgiven and forgotten.
Happy to see her folks, if she had any idea what they’d been thinking she sure didn’t let on.
Their ordeal does, however, make you wonder how far you would have to be pushed to look at your dog that way.
And you have to wonder how you come back from a thought like that once the door is opened – On some level it has to change things.
Like when you’re sitting in your recliner watching TV and hankering for a snack, do you look at the dog a little differently, like it’s an option?
At the very least, in the interest of atonement, you know you would toss the ball a few more times and not complain when the pooch sneaks up onto the couch.
Now Jesse, on the other hand, she’s a winner here for more reasons than just the obvious.
It deserves mentioning that a very hungry pit bull had three weak and injured people at her disposal for several days, and not one bite did she take — Good dog!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dogs divided on candidates

There’s unrest around my place.
My girl can do it on her own and would rather take it upon herself to get what she needs than rely on the household. If she’s hungry, she’s one to sort it out it out herself rather than wait for the dish to be filled and she would rather spend her time making sure the yard is safe than anything else.
She really doesn’t want anyone telling her what to do and prefers a hands-off approach, but at the same time, she’s not much for the shenanigans of others.
My crazy little terrier, on the other hand, will wait for the bowls to be filled, eying his equal portion in satisfaction as everybody lines up to eat. He doesn’t like her judging eyes when he goes on about his free spirited ways, and he doesn’t think too highly of the fact she doesn’t like to share when she gets something good.
The other guys, well, they kind of go back and forth. They like the food getting poured into the bowls, but hate the fence that confines their movements. They like to secure the yard from time to time, but then other days they just aren’t worried about it.
Most of the time they all manage to get along, but recently things have been challenging.
The trouble all started when she found the website “Pets with Newt,” and submitted her photo, signing on in support.
The terrier quickly retaliated by sending his photo to the “Pet Lovers for Obama” Facebook page and clicking “Like.”
While he said he loved the page, he said what really sold him was that time Obama hopped in the car with Bo and went off to PetSmart in search of Christmas presents, and, of course, I got pulled into things when he reminded me I NEVER take him anywhere in the car.
He tried to use his argument as leverage to get me to order an “I bark for Barack” magnet, but I was able to duck out of the room before he got too far.
As I was leaving, one of the dogs, I’m still not sure which, mentioned that it was Rick Santorum who introduced the Pet Animal Welfare Statute six years ago — but of course somebody else remembered some near-forgotten 2003 comment he made about gay marriage that cast dogs in a bad light.
It wasn’t long before there was a bunch of snarling and one of them started yapping something about supporting “pet projects” meaning something else entirely.
But things really got bad when the other pooches came across the “Dogs Against Romney” blog and a huge row unfolded.
One thought roof surfing all the way to Canada sounded like a lot of fun, while another furiously defended Seamus the Irish setter’s right to ride inside the car with a window seat.
And then somebody had to go and show the cats the picture of Gengrich posing at a zoo with a fancy spotted feline and the hissing began, with one cat calling him a hero and the other convinced it was photo-shopped.
Mark my words, if I ever find out who showed the horses that YouTube video of Vermin Supreme, it’s going to be ugly. I spent hours trying to explain he’s a satirical candidate who has no intention of actually delivering his promised “pony for a vote” — yeah, they don’t get it. They still think if they can just convince me to support him they will get a little brother or sister to pick on.
Now I’ve had to ban them all from the news and the computer. Particularly the undecided, for fear they might stumble across the site selling the Ron Paul dog T-shirt, you know, the one with the Facebook “Like” thumb on the back and his name underneath.
Unfortunately, the damage is done and ever since they saw all the campaigns aimed at them, there has been nothing but squabbling around the house and the yard.
It’s unpleasant, but I have to admit, I’m even more nervous about the day they all stop fighting each other and start trying to sway my vote.
It’s going to be a long 10 months.

No gender bias in dog leadership

If you have dogs around, you know as soon as the door is opened in the morning, they beeline for relief.
And if you yourself are awake enough, you know better than to stand gazing out the window while you sip your coffee because there’s sure to be some squatting and leg lifting going on for a few minutes. But then some mornings you just plum forget not to look.
One morning, I forgot.
But my didn’t-need-to-see-that moment was short lived as I watched a leg hike and prepared to turn away, only to stop dead in my tracks.
Predictable event "wrong” dog.
My foggy brain was slow starting, but not that slow and I watched intently, processing the fact that SHE was lifting her leg on the rose bush.
Yep, my dainty little girl was, for lack of a better description, going like a boy and the boys were all observing from a distance with looks of respect.
Now I say dainty, but that is something of an illusion with this girl. She has a dainty conformation with a sleek build, defined face and ears that stand high and alert.
And her personality is sweet and timid — among human friends that is.
In the dog world, she is tough as nails.
Always at the head of the charge, she is the hunter, protector, alerter, disciplinarian and the one who nobody dares to mess with — not bad considering she's the only girl in the bunch.
She's fast, agile, rough-and-tumble and a little scary when she gets her snarl on.
In some quick, strange way, it made perfect sense and my mind wandered back to that time I tried to put a sweater on her and she promptly rolled around in the mud until it stretched and tore and I relieved her of it.
Or the fact even when she has fancy gum-gentle chew toys, her favorite thing to do is chew on sticks until they splinter into a million pieces.
And the way she always sleeps one-eye open while the boys go belly up, snoring in the sun.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense, but I still did a little research just to make sure we didn't need to have a talk.
Apparently it's not entirely uncommon for female dogs to hike their legs and scent mark, they just don't do it quite as often as males and since unfixed males have a tendency to have some other attention getting behaviors (aggression, destruction, fighting, fence hopping) they get credit for the majority of the leg lifting.
Dominance, territory, breeding... all reasons why a girl in the dog world might stream vertical, just like her male equivalents.
Like any good leader worthy of respect, if she's going to be in command, she better be able to do everything her subordinates can do and do it better, and as a good leader she can't just say she can do it — she has to be able to prove it.
Of course I have no way of knowing if she was anointed pack leader because she can go standing up, or if that's just an inherited trait that came with the job.
But in all reality, it doesn't seem like it's a gender thing at all that got her where she is and more that she figured out how to do something different than naturally inclined.
If you apply Steve Jobs' gauge of leadership, the born direction of the stream, or the toughness aren't the determining factors, but it is rather, innovation (that) distinguishes between a leader and a follower.

Horses offer good fuel mileage

As featured Jan. 20, 2012, on

If you really think about it, even with the blowing dirt, tumbleweeds and drive time to bigger cities, eastern New Mexico and the surrounding region have some pretty good advantages.
Particularly in light of predictions gas prices could increase to a point where many people would have no choice but to park it — naysayer prophecies of $5 to $6 a gallon by summer tied to tensions with Iran are top news lately — this area just might be the place to be.
Now of course, one might wonder how that could possibly translate to a positive for the area. After all, communities in the region tend to sprawl a bit more than their condensed urban counterparts, creating distances that aren't always conducive to foot traffic and not a good thing when gas prices double.
But we have something other regions don't always have in great numbers, a creature that in other places is generally unattainable to those who fall short of affluent.
You might have guessed where this was going... Yep, we have horses, and lots of them.
Think about it.
Gas prices aside, if 2012 theories proved true and suddenly some event wiped out all technology, people in other regions would struggle trying to learn how to function with defunct nifty, gee-whiz electronic cars.
Or, finding their GPS units relegated to paperweights, they may face the shocking reality that they don't know their way around town.
But a solar flare doesn't fritz a horse and, as luck would have it, horses still come with an on-board GPS — granted it's usually tuned to the barn — but it functions nonetheless.
With people around who still remember the pioneering days on the High Plains, land as far as the eye can see and an ingrained horsing culture, things tend to be a little different in this area. In fact it's rare to travel more than a couple miles without seeing a member of the equine persuasion, and, what’s more, they’re still being employed for practical purposes.
I'd even hazard a wager that there are still some hitching posts around, even if they are in storage and need a little dusting.
Not counting maintenance and vet bills, using the average annual mileage a person generally puts on their car, if gas hit $4 a gallon, a person getting semi-decent mileage would spend about $3,000 on fuel. By comparison, fueling a horse, even with the astronomical hay prices of late, would cost below half that.
Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a presidential candidate campaigning on a platform of providing a pony for every American if he is elected. Among other things, he has proposed we use the methane gas from their waste as an alternative energy.
OK, admittedly he is probably not the poster child for four-legged transportation considering he also wears a boot as a hat, glitter-bombed a fellow candidate during a forum and promises to enact a mandatory tooth brushing law.
However, funny-hat-glitter-bombing aside, maybe there are other reasons to keep driving.
Coexisting with methane gas producers as we already do, most of us are probably hard pressed to see how 300 million ponies, and their methane, are going to improve quality of life in America.
And despite the saying, it actually does take a while to drive the wheels off a car, where as it took 120 riders with 400 horses to pull off the Pony Express in its short, 18 month existence.
Furthermore, economically speaking, a car parked with a full tank still has a full tank a week later, where as the horse will use and need its fuel even if we don’t.
But the point is, when you have the best of both the old, and the new worlds, if we were forced to give up the conveniences we think we rely on, an area like this could probably pull it off better than most.
Not that I’m advocating a vote for a pony, mind you.